W2W4: New England Patriots (4-1) vs Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is back. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is back. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
New England Patriots defensive lineman Malcom Brown has had a strong season so far. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

New England Patriots Rushing Defense vs Cincinnati Bengals Rushing Offense

Once upon a time (2014) the Cincinnati Bengals had a top-five rushing attack. In 2016 the Bengals have had little production on the ground. As a team, they are averaging just 3.4 yards per rush with just 419 yards rushing in five games. Other than an unexpected performance against the Denver Broncos in week three, the Bengals have failed to rush for 100 yards in a game.

Again, the offensive line has been a large part of the problem. With little space to run, primary running back Jeremy Hill has had few opportunities to consistently pick up yards and match his 1,124 yard 2014 season. Last year he slumped to just 794 yards and a 3.6 yards per attempt average. This season Hill has just 233 yards through five games and is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush.

Along with Hill the Bengals have Giovani Bernard at running back. Bernard is primarily the third down back and is the team’s second leading receiver with 25 catches for 211 yards. Bernard will get his share of carries and the Bengals do not hesitate to hand him the ball. So far in 2016 he is averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt after averaging 4.7 yards per attempt last year.

The Patriots have had great play against the run on the defensive line from Malcom Brown (a blossoming star) and veteran Alan Branch. Rookie Vincent Valentine has been a surprise and although an injury to his back kept him out last week, undrafted free agent rookie Woodrow Hamilton impressed in his first action with the varsity.

Linebacker Jamie Collins joined the injury report mid-week with a hip injury as Dont’a Hightower dropped off it as he seemed to be back at full strength last week from his knee injury. Rookie sixth-round draft pick Elandon Roberts played a key role in the run defense stepping in for an injured Jonathan Freeny (who was just added to the injured reserve list).  Roberts stepped-up and led the team with seven tackles (six unassisted) in shutting down the Browns strong running game.

The Patriots are facing a Bengals team which has struggled mightily to run the ball while New England shut down the top rushing offense of 2016 last week. So far, the only team that imposed their will on the ground on the New England defense was Buffalo in week four. The Patriots have been strong against the run most of the season and there is little reason to expect it to change this week against a team which has been unable to consistently rush the ball.